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More Mark Doty–Memoirist

     I just finished Dog Years, and once again found myself in tears reading this author.  This memoir is largely focused on his life with two dogs: Arden, a black part-Labrador, part-Newfoundland, part-who-knows-what mutt, and Beau, a golden retriever.  And, given the shorter lifespans of dogs, on his grief at their deaths.

He writes:

One of the unspoken truths of American life is how deeply people grieve over the animals who live and die with them, how real that emptiness is, how profound the silence is these creatures leave in their wake.  Our culture expects us not only to bear these losses alone, but to be ashamed of how deeply we feel them.

And he describes the pleasures of having a dog in his life.  Throughout the book, he tries very hard to express what’s going on for the dogs–he believes, as do I, that dogs have emotions–without resorting to anthropomorphic language.  That, as he points out, is the great divide between their lives and ours.  Along this line, he talks about the way the relationship between a person and their doctor differs from the relationship between a dog and their vet.  The latter is, in fact, a three-way relationship, with all the complexities that entails.  Moreover, one of the participants can’t express their wishes in language–even if barks, growls and tail-wags can get the point across. 

His memoirs [and the other two: Heaven’s Coast and Firebird are equally wonderful, though about quite differnt topics, on the surface anyway] are a joy to read.  And the new paperback edition of Dog Years has a bit of interview with him at the end.  In particular, about writing a memoir he says:

A defining structure is crucial to memoir because memory is basically infinite–it just keeps branching out, including more and more.  The structure of a memoir helps you to know what to leave out.  Once I have that structure in mind, I work in a very concentrated, intense way, and write a memoir more or less straight through from beginning to end.  I can’t do anything else while I’m working on one; I need to just stay with it till I make it to the end.

He contrasts this way of working with his way of working on poetry, which is more subject to the vagaries of inspiration.  He also has a great web site.  He’s one of the authors whose work I’ve followed for a long time, and whose books I eagerly await.

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